Melissa’s Rap: Last week, we reviewed some great yoga-centered steps to reducing stress and the effects of it on the body. One of those steps was chanting, part of a practice that is often referred to as sound therapy.
As a yoga instructor, chanting was one of the biggest things I got resistance to in my classes. Sometimes student would outright tell me they weren’t interested in chanting, often for spiritual reasons (it felt to them as if they were chanting to a god they don’t believe in, for example), but sometimes because they just weren’t comfortable with something so foreign to them – it didn’t feel natural. Sometimes they wouldn’t speak up about their hesitations, but simply wouldn’t participate. I respected their fears and hesitations, however, regardless of their reasoning, it was unfortunate they were missing out on what can be a very therapeutic practice.
Sound therapy has been around for centuries. We all know the power of music. It can bring us to tears or fill us with joy. It can even make us feel more empowered and ready to take on anything. Music does not even need lyrics to elicit some of these emotions. The rhythm, beat and vibration can lull us to sleep, or inspire us to get up and move. It is powerful.
Chanting is simply the act of vocalization. Chanting can mean everything from intoning one syllable to repeating a multi-word mantra. It does not have to be spiritual in nature at all. I do not practice chanting that way. However, if you are a spiritual person, chanting can become a spiritual practice for you. Simply choose what you chant based on your intentions and your belief system.
Lengthening of the Breath: If you’ve practiced yoga for any length of time, you know pranayama – or control of the breath – is paramount to health, having a long list of positive effects on the body and mind. Lengthening the exhale is one of the most important components of the yoga breath, in my opinion, as it promotes relaxation and relieves anxiety. Another important benefit of lengthening the breath is the increased oxygenation of the blood.
Good, Good, Good, Good Vibrations: There have been numerous studies on the benefits of vibration in the body (Science Daily | NASA | Forbes). For centuries, yoga practitioners have enjoyed the benefits of vibration – through music, toning and chanting, and Kirtan, a spiritual sing-along of sorts.
Living in the Present Moment: Another benefit of chanting is the act of focusing on the activity can bring ones focus into the present moment. We live much of our time reliving the past or worrying about the future. Many aspects of a yoga practice, including chanting, can help bring our focus to the mat and the present moment, which can be powerful in and of itself.
OK, you are ready to give this chanting thing a try. Now what? Let’s talk about the basics.
Before you begin, find a comfortable place to sit; a chair or a yoga mat or a meditation cushion. As with meditation, it may be beneficial to practice chanting at the end of your yoga practice, as you have worked out tension in the body and have eased yourself into a state of relaxation, mentally and physically.
Begin by focusing on the breath, coming into a three part yoga breath, filling the body from the base of the abdomen up into the chest and throat. Your chant should typically be long and drawn out, lengthening the out breath, intentionally initiating a state of relaxation. Some teachers will say chanting is best done in a deeper voice, as it helps you connect with your foundation, your root chakra.
You have a couple of options:
- OM: Most yoga classes you attend that include chanting in their sessions will have you chant OM. This classic chant, known as The Sacred Sound, is often chanted in three syllables. Start by exhaling fully and then inhaling deeply. At the top of the inhale, begin my chanting “Ahhhhhh”, transition seamlessly into “Ohhhhhhhh” and then end with “Mmmmm.”
- Vowel Sounds: If you are not comfortable chanting OM, or want to start with something a bit different, try chanting (or toning as it’s often called) the vowels. With each out breath, you will chant a vowel, starting with A: “Ahhhhhhhhhh.” Then, moving on to a long E sound, then I, O and U.
- Mmmmm: Sometimes, especially when I am struggling with anxiety, I will simply chant Mmmmmmmm. This sounds like you are humming and can even include inflections, instead of doing a straight, monotone sound. If you are still struggling with the concept of chanting, simply hum your favorite song and then sit quietly, noticing the effects of the humming in your body and on your current state of relaxation.
- Sanskrit Chants: if you are interested in trying a more spiritual chanting experience, check out this article from Yoga Journal featuring several sacred Sanskrit mantras to incorporate into your practice.
If you are still skeptical of the benefits of chanting, I encourage you to practice it for yourself, incorporating it into your yoga routine for a week. After each session, sit quietly and feel the effects of the practice in your body. Do you feel any different? Can you feel vibration in your body? How is your stress level? If you are prone to anxiety, do you notice a decrease in your anxiety after a week of practice? What other effects do you notice?
Do you have a regular chanting practice? What are your favorite chants? What benefits do you feel you receive from your practice? Comment below or message us here.